Interview with Rafael Abreu

Rafael Abreu: Starting up a meteorology business

 

Rafael Abreu is a 27-year-old entrepreneur for Oráculo Meteorologia, who provides weather and climate prediction solutions for farmers across Brazil. He is also a PhD student at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil studying the impact of land use change, especially urbanization, in variability of temperature and precipitation. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, he studied meteorology at USP where he discovered a love of coding, particularly in GrADS, Shell Script, HTML, Javascript and Python. Meteorologists commonly use these languages to analyze data, but he also uses them for backend web development for both his PhD research and at Oráculo Meteorologia. He believes that being successful requires problem solving skills, being open to new ideas, and collaborating with others and credits his combined experience of being a researcher and being part of a startup business for helping him develop these key skills.

In a discussion with Michel and myself, he shares the struggles and successes they had while building the business, but especially how utilizing startup strategies in particular turned their business into a profitable company.

 

Morgan & Michel: What drove you to study meteorology?

Rafael Abreu: I was always fascinated by atmosphere phenomena like thunderstorms, cloud formation, rainbows and such. When I discovered that meteorology course had a big emphasis in mathematics and physics, which were my main interests during high school, I decided to apply for it. Since when I got into the university, I saw that it was no easy task to graduate, but the interest remained and opened a broader range of possibilities to learn new things like statistics, coding and much more.

M & M: Could you tell us a bit about your company ‘Oráculo meteorologia’?

R A: Oráculo Meteorologia is a company that uses weather and climate prediction to help farmers in Brazil better manage their crops. The company was funded in 2015 and has five partners: myself, Takao (CEO), Takashi (Designer) and Matheus (Meteorologist) and Tiago (Meteorologist). We engage in farmers’ day to day activities, such as issuing alerts if there are any nearby thunderstorms that could disturb their operations: such as spraying and planning the best windows to plant and harvest.

M & M: What gave you the idea to create your company?

R A: Matheus studied meteorology with me at USP and he pitched me the idea to build a weather company from scratch. Without knowing exactly what to expect I decided to get onboard, because by the end of my undergraduate degree I was feeling that meteorology was not really appreciated in Brazil, and I was eager to do something about it. All of the partners shared the same motivation. When the company started, we tried to replicate some big weather companies in Brazil, which didn’t gave much results since we had a lot less resources in personnel and technology. Then, we started digging into the concepts of startups, how the Silicon Valley was formed, and many other success stories from other companies and decided to use those strategies in our business, which was when the team became more focused and our first customers started to show up.

M & M: That is an amazing story! What were the new strategies you tried that eventually helped your company succeed?

R A: Takao, who is the CEO, is the main person responsible for making sure the company incorporates proper startup strategies. For example, he developed the brand and made sure we focused on specific target markets to develop a solution that delivers value before expanding to other sectors and other markets. The concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was also essential for us, because in the beginning we made a lot of mistakes. We spent a lot of time trying to build the perfect piece of software that we, as developers, thought customers would want. However, reality showed us that this is not always the case, and customers weren’t really interested in the software we made. We then tried to build a simpler product, testing it with WhatsApp and talking closely with our target market to understand what key information they need and how they needed it to be displayed. Only after validating this information did we start developing the mobile app. We learned all of these concepts mainly from the internet, through websites like Endeavor and TED talks. Also, we went through an acceleration program from Startup Farm, a well known company in South America, on Google Campus São Paulo, that helped us to build this kind of knowledge.

M & M: Those procedures are definitely key processes for startup companies, and it sounds like it really worked for you! Even after a round of being not so successful. That is an important lesson for others who want to start a business. What other challenges did you face while starting up the business?

R A: The biggest challenge is to be outside your comfort zone, which means you face a lot of uncertainty. Starting a new business from scratch means you might take some time to start making some money, which could put some constraints in your budget. Also, we needed to learn a lot of different things because we have only a few staff members. Learning things like finance, marketing, web and app development, etc. takes a lot of time, hard work and especially patience. For the app specifically, the challenges were related to our expertise to do so. With no experienced programmer, we had to learn by ourselves how to code the app and distribute it for iOS and Android, which was done mostly by Takashi. Also, I had to learn more about web development, something that is unfamiliar for meteorologists, to develop APIs that feed the information to the app. Besides that, it takes a lot of trial and error, changes in the layout, and lots of feedbacks from the users to find a good match for the customer. Although we think we have a good app, there is always room for improvement.

M & M: Constantly improving to fit the needs of your customers will be key to keeping you in business! With that in mind, where do you see yourself and your company 5 years from now?

R A: The best scenario for us would be to have a lot more users for our app and to be seen as a trustworthy company for all farmers in Brazil. Hopefully we can also serve as an inspiration to meteorology students in Brazil to try to follow this path. Maybe by setting an example as a case of success this could lead to other startups that in turn would generate more jobs and a bigger appreciation for this science that is intertwined in everyone day to day lives.

 

For more information on Oráculo Meteorologia, how to build a startup, and tips for entrepreneurial meteorology, check out our blog, social media, and the links below!

Oráculo Meteorologia: http://www.oraculo.me/

How to Build A Startup: https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup–ep245

 

Morgan & Michel

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